Posted: 8 p.m.
The Bengals want more consistency from their tight ends, but they aren't ready to exile Dan Coats or J.P Foschi or activate third-rounder Chase Coffman even though he's been good enough in practice that head coach Marvin Lewis is calling him all-Hamilton County.
"They're our tight ends." offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said Monday. "The only other option is to put an offensive lineman at tight end which we've done this season. The whole reason we did not have success was not strictly the tight ends."
But Bratkowski said it is understandable why the tight ends' problems are magnified. Coats and Foschi both lost fumbles Sunday in the second half of the 28-17 loss to Houston while Coats' problems with drops continued with two more.
Plus, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing knifed past both Coats and Foschi inside when the Bengals were lined up along with a wing on the right side and gave it to running back Cedric Benson on third-and-one late in the first half. It was the first time Benson had been stopped on four third-and-one chances this year.
Clearly the Bengals are still battling the impact of the loss of their top two tight ends in training camp, Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht. Kelly and Utecht have played a combined 203 NFL games. On Sunday against the Bears, Foschi plays his 25th NFL game and Coats his 22nd as a tight end.
"There have been times they've both done some really good things," Bratkowski said. "They've both made plays in the pass game and they have both made good plays blocking. It's not as consistent as we would like. Obviously the dropped balls and the fumbles are an issue. They've just got to come out of it."
The Bengals do have Coffman sitting on the bench as the NCAA's all-time prolific pass-catching tight end, and it figures he can at least catch it and hold onto it. But he's never been asked to block until this season, although it's a bit of a surprise it's taken this long to get him acclimated to the scheme.
"He's making progress. He's still trying to get his feet underneath him and keep his balance," said Bratkowski of Coffman's blocking. "He's done some good things in the pass game. He could be pretty close to playing at some point here soon and then we'll find out where he's at. What his strengths are, what we'll be able to use him to do and what he needs work on. Those are the things (to watch) when he does start to get playing time."
When Coffman does start playing the indication is he won't replace either Coats or Foschi. And don't expect Coffman to appear this Sunday against the Bears and probably not even the game after the Nov. 1 bye as the Bengals finish what special teams coach Darrin Simmons calls "a murderer's row" of kick and punt returners.
The Bengals don't exactly want Coffman's first special teams assignment to be trying to chase down the Bears' Devin Hester, he of 11 career return TDs.
"I think you'll see Chase this year; I'm anxious to see Chase," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "I've got to make sure those guys who suit up on Sunday can fulfill covering those kicks and doing all those things Chase didn't do a whole lot of at the University of Missouri. Maybe when we don't see one of these returners that are leading the league in everything week-in and week-out I don't know why we keep drawing this card each week, but we'll get another one this week. That's an important part of everything we do, to make sure we can fill those teams the right way, so we have an opportunity to get that returner on the ground and do all the other things that have to happen those other 25 (special teams) snaps a game."
But Lewis made it clear he's not down on Coffman even though he has yet to activate him for a game.
"I like everything Chase is doing. He's all-Hamilton County every Friday out here and that's a good thing," Lewis said. "That's what you want. This is the NFL. We do a period at the end of practice every week that's the twos versus the twos, guys who aren't getting as much time on offense and defense, and we want to see them play football. They look forward to that, and they get some plays in, and it's good for us to evaluate and watch them. He keeps coming and going, and I mean, he's going to be fine."